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Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture

Order: Falconiformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus and Species: Gyps rueppellii

Physical Description

These vultures’  bodies  are a mottled, chocolate brown color with a distinctive white feather ring around their bald heads and necks. They have yellow eyes and soft white fluff that covers the purple skin on their heads.

Their sharp, pale yellow beaks are used for ripping and tearing meat from carcasses.

They have powerful legs and talons they use to rip meat and cling to the rock cliffs where they nest.

Size

These large birds can range from 14 to 20 pounds and can be 33 to 41 inches long.

Both males and females have a large wingspan that can range from 7.5 to 8.5 feet long. This allows them to climb altitude and soar for over 6 hours.

Geographic Distribution

The Ruppell’s griffon vultures live all throughout central and western Africa.

Status

The IUCN lists the Ruppell’s  griffon vulture as endangered. Their population is declining raplidy due to poisoning, hunting for trade, and habitat loss. However, the birds still live in great numbers in certain protected areas in central Africa.

Habitat

They prefer grasslands and dry, arid areas where they can easily spot carrion.  

Natural Diet

Like most vultures, Ruppell's griffon vulture feed almost exclusively on carrion.

National Zoo Diet

The Ruppell’s griffon vultures at the Zoo are fed a diet of certain meats. Other zoos may do carcass feeding as well.

Reproduction

They mate for life, which may be forty or fifty years. In vulture courtship, pairs circle close together near cliffs. Pairs perch together for long periods of time, and form colonies of up to 1,000 breeding pairs. They make large nests of sticks lined with grass and leaves. The females will often steal the sticks from other nests and the males arrange them.

Depending upon its location, a nesting site may be used year after year or never again. Both parents incubate, brood, and feed the chicks. The pair lays a single egg  each year, and the chick is only just gaining independence when the next breeding cycle begins. The incubation period of the eggs is 55 days, and the chick fledges in 12 weeks.

Life Span

Maximum lifespan can reach 40 to 50 years.

Behavior

Ruppell's vultures are highly social, roosting, nesting, and gathering to feed in large flocks.

Most vultures are silent, unless they are either at a nesting ground or competing for a carcass.

Ruppell's griffon is the highest flying bird on record, once spotted at an altitude of over 37, 000 feet in the skies of Africa. From a standing start the Ruppell’s vulture can fly over three miles in six minutes. They can cruise at over 22 miles per hour, and will fly as far as 90 miles from their nest in search of food.